I Walk the Line
A Balanced Plea for Balance
(First posted 3 January 2007)
cripture says, "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1). There's an equilibrium to be maintained in true spirituality, and it's only our sinfulness that makes us become unbalanced in one direction or the other.
The obedience God demands requires our implicit compliance to all of His revealed Word, and He expressly commands us "not [to] turn aside to the right hand or to the left." (Deuteronomy 5:24). The way of truth is well worn (Jeremiah 6:16) but narrow (Matthew 7:14). There are dangerous ditches on both sides of it, and we are so prone to waywardness that we need constant checks to keep from veering off track to one side or the other (Isaiah 30:21). We sometimes have to fight to keep our balance. In the words of Hebrews 4:11, we have to labor to enter into rest.
But balance is a tricky word. Mention it in connection with truth or spirituality, and people tend to think of a board balanced on a fulcrum, like a seesaw on the playground. If you move to one side, that end goes down, and if you move to the other end, that end goes down. We all learned as children that the only way for just one person to play on a teeter-totter is to get in the middle and stand with one foot on one side and one on the other and balance the board that way.
I'm afraid too many people take that approach with the problem of discerning truth. They take a dialectical approach, where you resolve every issue by seeking the middle ground between two opposing extremes—as if you could combine an erroneous thesis and its equally erroneous antithesis and come up with a synthesis that is somehow true.
It's not particularly helpful to think in such terms. While it's true that errors often exist at opposite extremes on both sides of any given truth, you can't necessarily find the truth by starting with opposite errors and searching for the via media between them.
I'm always a bit wary of people who seek the middle of the road on every issue. Have you noticed, for example, that whenever the doctrine of election or the question of human "free will" comes up, someone will invariably declare that he (or she) holds a position that is neither Calvinist nor Arminian but is squarely in the middle of those two "extremes"? A lot of people seem to imagine that there is some safe, logically-coherent, middle-road position where divine sovereignty and human responsibility essentially cancel one another out.
Let's be honest: That claim is often employed in an effort to stop meaningful discussion rather than advance it. Many people who take that approach simply don't want to work through the difficulties posed by the tension between the gospel call and the sinner's inability, or between God's absolute sovereignty and His wrath against sin. They imagine that if they take a position in the middle of the road and cover their eyes, they can simply avoid all such problems altogether.
That's not a biblical way of thinking. Scripture (as well as true Calvinism) stresses both divine sovereignty and human responsibility. The truth is not a midway point where neither emphasis is taught at all, but a balanced doctrine where both sides of the truth are fully stressed.
The balance between Christian liberty and godly living is also like that. Don't look for a comfortable midway point between legalism and license. There is no safe "middle road" between legalism and license. In fact, legalism and license often go hand in hand and are found together, because they stem from the same wrong view of sanctification. Legalism is often a smoke screen for carnal living.
But New Testament sanctification properly stresses both liberty and love for Christ; both freedom from the law and freedom from sin; both emancipation from the bondage of our sinful flesh and slavery to righteousness as the only way to enjoy our new life in the Spirit.
Most Christian doctrines achieve balance in a similar way. Forget the midway point on a continuum, the fulcrum on a teeter-totter, and the yellow stripe in the middle of the road. When we speak of balancing these two truths, the idea is more like two oars on a rowboat. Try to paddle a typical boat with the paddle on one side only, and you will just go around in circles without making any progress. The harder you row with one oar, the faster and tighter your circles will be.
You'll never get anywhere spiritually unless you put both oars in the water.